December in the Garden: Could your winter garden benefit from a little skiing?

Want to play a little garden hooky? Now is the perfect time to abandon your garden. You can go and play while your winter garden is too cold and dormant to cause a fuss in your absence.

My family and I just returned from a ski trip to the Alps. The Alps you ask, when the snow is so good in the Sierras?  Yes, I know. Crazy choice. But for over 50 years and 4 generations, my German born husband and his family have been meeting every few years in a tiny town in the Alps for a ski trip family reunion.

Three Buelow generations in the Austrian Alps.

Upon arriving home from any trip, one of the first things I do is glance out my backyard window to check on the garden.  In the winter haze, it looked perfectly preserved with no detectable changes.  Of course, once I went out and spent some time weeding, small changes were found.

Not much growing on here.

Great things in the winter garden: leafroller with a Salvador Dali mustache, seed catalogs, and Sluggo

  • Good news regarding the leafroller I discussed in my previous garden diary post.  It is not a Light brown apple moth (Epiphyas postvittana).  I took a closer look with my loupe and the comprehensive UC Field ID Guide for the Light brown apple moth and determined it is instead the Western avocado leafroller (Amorbia cuneana).  Without a hand lens the two caterpillars look identical.  The difference is on the Western avacado leafroller. It has dark bands on the side of its head and above its first leg that are reminiscent of a Salvador Dali mustache that migrated to the wrong part of the body.

I know its odd, but I think it's great fun to identify the things that plague my garden.  It’s like detective work. The Light brown apple moth is a monumental agricultural pest and to identify one would have meant notifying agricultural authorities. Phew! Really dodged a bullet there.

Western Avacado Leafroller on my mint leaf and a close up photo of the caterpillar's distinguishing black markings.

  • Apparently if you start a blog about gardening, seed companies line up to send you their catalogs.  I got three new ones this week.  Fun!
  • The Sluggo pellets I scattered were very effective.  No more signs of slugs or snails.

Bad things in the winter garden: Dead chicken, fungal disease, and cabbage loopers

  • One of my chickens, Pecky, perished while I was gone.  It never fails that when I go abroad, my poor neighbors have to deal with a dead chicken.
  • Fungal diseases are not my identifying forte.  Whatever the diagnosis, dead is dead. I still can’t tell if it is Gray Mold (Botrytis sp.) or Downy Mildew (Bremia lactucae and Peronospora sp.) that’s plaguing my lettuce heads.  Both can be a problem in cold wet coastal conditions and have similar effects.  I’m going to need a couple more lettuce heads to die to really figure it out.

Wilted Flashy Troutback lettuce in my backyard garden.

  • How can it be so cold and there are still cabbage loopers eating everything? Ugh!  They ate the new carrot seeds that popped up, the peas, the lettuce, and the kale I transplanted.  I’ll need to spray some more Monterey BT once it stops raining.

These guys look pretty similar to the leafrollers.  They can be distinguished by the "looping" movement they make as they inch along. Picture from the University of Utah Cooperative Extension.

The winter months should be about warm fires, hot cups of cocoa and maybe some skiing in the Alps.  Heed the call of the yodel, but don’t completely abandon your garden. There is still work to be done even while your plants are dormant.  I encourage you to take the time to identify any current pest problems now.  It will give you a head start against them in the more favorable growing months of spring when you really want your garden to thrive.


Monthly Garden Notes